Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sandy, Bad Food And The Ruin Of The World

Sem-EYE-Homemade with Sandra Lee

Italian Slow Cooking
Bow Ties with Artichoke Pesto
Chicken with Vegetable Ragout and Polenta
Venetian Coffee

Wild Mushroom Dip

My intention was to finally sit down and watch The Cooking Loft and report on how the chef of Butter is doing as host of her own show. But as I prepared to turn on the tape, there was Aunt Sandy in an overly elaborate black tunic with scads of white lace running down the front. She had a wide black-ribbon headband and her hair was in a beehive ponytail reminiscent of Wasilla chic.

Plus, the window valence was a strange black brocade piece of material draped diagonally across the window. There were black items stuck haphazardly all over the kitchen. Maybe this was a funeral lunch for a lace maker…I HAD to stay tuned.

Each dish that was promo-ed was an unattractive brown or beige. I guess she’ll make up for that with lots of tchatzkies on the table. Even the beginning of the show riles me, though, where she actually admits her food is 70% processed chemicalized crap mixed with 30% real food.

The first recipe is a mushroom dip, which honestly looks like grey waste matter in a flat bowl. She soaks dried mushrooms in warmed white wine. I don’t think that’s an awful idea, but it is a waste of wine - although she probably buys it by the keg - because not all the liquid is used. She mixes her soaked mushrooms with some of the liquid in the food processor. The enormous handkerchief type sleeves of her tunic threaten at any moment to become saturated with winey mushroom juice, but she plows on unperturbed.

OMG, the other ingredients for the dip include a can of mushroom soup. Just imagine using condensed soup as the base for a dip. Think about dipping a carrot stick into a can of soup. There really should be a law, although she is quite proficient at getting that gunk out of the can.

That goes into her nonstick pan, which I hate. I sure hope she has no birds around. She called that a sauté pan. No, Sandy, that’s a saucepan. A sauté pan is wide with straight sides.

Oh joy, she’s adding tarragon. That’s okay, I would rather have eaten compost than this anyway. Next a small tub of cream cheese goes in with ½ cup of sour cream and a cup of mozzarella (preshredded, bien sur) goes in. She adds salt…bad move. She pours in the mushrooms and stirs well. It all goes into that flat bowl.

She moves very rapidly to artichoke pesto. I think it’s so we don’t notice how bad the mushroom dip looks. She opens 2 jars of artichokes and drains them in the sink. They go into the food processor. She adds 1 teaspoon of FAKE lemon juice with ready grated parmesan cheese and ¼ cup of pre-chopped walnuts. Sandy purées the mixture and adds 3 tablespoons of olive oil. It comes out the exact same brown grey color as the mushrooms. It looks like chopped liver.

She’s back from a break. Oh, I just noticed the BLACK KitchenAid in the corner. Sandy strains cooked bow tie pasta and tosses it with the artichoke pesto. She adds some more of her packaged grated parm. She doesn’t even try to stop it from looking like gritty grey cement on the pasta. No green, nothing from the plant world to lift the color.

Sandy moves on to a chicken dish. Finally…this dish will have some color from the tomatoes. She goes to her fridge (at least it’s not her pantry of hell) and gets pre-made polenta in a tube. I actually did try that once. It’s awful. It’s artificial tasting (a prerequisite to be included in the Sem-EYE-Homemade pantry). It keeps its shape so well, you KNOW there’s something fake in there, encouraging the molecules to hold up to heat and heavy handling.

Now Sandy has a “medley” of frozen vegetables sitting on her counter, which she has thawed. I’m not an expert in frozen vegetables, I only use frozen peas and corn, but even I know that you’re not supposed to thaw them before cooking. She (expertly) opens the bags of vegetables and places them in what looks to be an old fashioned steel washtub. Oh sorry, it’s a black rectangled (with oval edges) deep baking dish. She opens the chicken breasts (on her wooden board) and seasons them with Italian seasoning and a bunch of other stuff. She flops them into the baking dish and seasons the other side.

For the sauce, she pours tomato sauce into a bowl and mixes it with a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a teaspoon of crushed store bought garlic and ¼ cup of sherry. She pours two-thirds of it over the chicken. She cuts her rubberized polenta into ½ inch slices. They look like rubber hockey pucks. She places them on top and around the chicken and then the rest of the sauce goes on. It goes in the slow cooker. Oh, THAT’S why she thawed the vegetables… It will cook for 4 to 5 hours.

I have to admit that I don’t get how a slow cooker really helps anyone. You can’t put the dish together before you leave for work in the morning and leave it in there for 8 hours. Even if there were a timer that you could set for 4 hours after you walked out the door, you couldn’t leave the chicken sitting in there, not cooking, for that long. And if you started it when you got home, most likely it would be too late to serve whatever it was for dinner, so I don’t get the point.

Sandy’s oven mitts match her black theme. She takes the chicken out of the slow cooker thingie and serves herself a plate. The polenta did indeed keep it shape. As soon as she plates it, she leaves it on the side and doesn't taste it. She’s right. The chicken has probably acquired the same texture as the polenta.

Dessert is packaged pie crust assembled with grape jelly and ricotta. She opens the pie crust pastry package with BLACK handled scissors. She unrolls her dough and pats it to even it out. She spreads ½ jar of grape jelly all over, leaving an inch plain rim around the edges.

Sandy dollops plain ricotta (no sugar, no lemon rind, no orange zest, nada) all over the top. She folds over the edges all around towards the middle to form an outside crust. That looks like something a 7 year old would make. She actually uses a real egg to brush all over the pastry. (She should have added a spoonful of water to make the egg wash less gloppy.) She presses halved red grapes INTO THE CRUST. (I didn’t see that coming.) She bakes it at 375°F for 20 minutes.

She takes her crostada out of the oven. It looks flat and fake. She covers it with powdered sugar. Oh, that will help.

Oh goodie, COCKTAIL TIME! Actually, it’s liquored-up coffee time. Sandy is making Venetian Coffee. I can’t stand her saying LICK-KOR for liqueur. It’s Lick-Cue-or. Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but certainly not LICK-KOR.

She pours amaretto into the bottom of two glass mugs. THAT IS A LOT OF AMARETTO. This isn’t going to be liqueured coffee, it’s going to be a mug of liqueurs with a drop of coffee. She adds a shot of Sambucca. I’m not kidding - more than half the glass is filled with liquor.

A member of the Semi-Homemade Club sent her the idea of how to flavor her coffee inexpensively. Instead of buying already flavored coffee, Sandy says you can buy cheap nasty coffee and flavor it with (undoubtedly artificial) different extracts. That’s not a bad idea, but, of course, use good coffee and good extracts. BTW, you can also throw tons of cinnamon into your grounds before brewing, and it will give your coffee a nice flavor, if you like that sort of thing…I don’t.

Oh no…”And now for the whipped topping.” Do we have to go through this again? Sandy, did you ever hear of cream? Real cream…from a cow, not a food factory of chemicals and additives? She puts a huge spoonful on top of her “nice little cozy cocktail”.

We’re forced to look at her tablescape. It looks like a cheap replica of what Elvira would dine with every night. There are hideous plastic looking highball glasses, that inexplicably have a chunky wine glass embedded inside and the wine goes all the way down to the stem and base. Very unbalanced and heavy looking. They look like this. The tablecloth is that black patterned material. There are silhouette place cards and cameo buttons turned into pins. Scary and bad…

Do people actually watch Sandra Lee seriously? I know, I know she has a very affecting personal story. She has an admirable work ethic and she probably keeps quite a few people employed, but couldn’t she do all that cooking real food?

It would be nowhere near as fun, of course, but she wouldn’t be encouraging the poisoning of America and helping huge multinationals that make this sludge in their quest for world domination. Make no mistake, her food is evil and made even more so by the presenting of it in this superficial, over-laced, cheap, not cheerful, setting.


Anonymous said...

I watch her, my hubby bought me one of her cookbooks, and I've made four things, I think, of hers. I don't take her seriously, really. The matching outfits and curtains annoy me. The cookies I made were good (yes cake mix was the base, but my husband, and everybody else who ate them, didn't care and loved them). Her stuffing recipe was too salty. Her scallop chowder was good, and while it did use a can of condensed potato soup, one could easily use real cream and extra potatoes to make it totally homemade. Another was a chicken dish, which I don't think used any processed ingredients. It may have called for frozen veggies of some sort, but I just used real.

I think that, to some extent, she encourages people who wouldn't otherwise cook, to cook. And yes 70% is processed, but 30% isn't, and that beats the people who will just grab a box off the shelf every night and eat processed stuff continuously. And sometimes, the stuff does taste good.

Anonymous said...

I actually liked those plasticky wineglasses, thought they'd be nice for use until my kids grow up for adults at dinners with the kids. I actually found this writeup (which I agree with in all other ways, and lovely snarking) while looking to see where I could get those.

Sue said...

No, Amy, say it isn't so. You actually have her IN YOUR HOUSE? It figures that your husband, perhaps susceptible to her feminine lacy tunics and strong cocktails, would have bought that for you...But what you're basically saying, though, is that you didn't really need her recipes, because you changed them so much using real food.

The thing I don't get about her cooking is that it's often fairly involved. In the time that it takes to mix her powders and other fake things together, you could have just made something real to begin with.

Well, Anonymous, I'm glad you found me...however it happened.

You could try serving wine, like they do in French bistros, and use tumblers when there are young ones about.

Neil Parille said...

I've watched her make some things that I might try to make, but in general I don't like her show.

I think she gives the impression that good food with fresh ingredients takes a lot of time. If you plan ahead, you can make good stuff that is 70% fresh and 30% premade.

sconstant said...

We use tumblers now, or use wineglasses and just deal with the occasional loss (more often due to an adult than a child, truth be told).

Anyway, came back in case anyone else was similarly curious in order to report that I found them, these are glass but are clearly the ones from the show, they're out of stock though:

Even cooler are "Inside Out" glasses, made by Alissia Melka Teichroew. Same idea, more delicate execution. The MOMA store sells them, so I am now less chagrined by my love for this idea.

Cynthia said...

There were black items stuck haphazardly all over the kitchen. Maybe this was a funeral lunch for a lace maker…I HAD to stay tuned. - I am not kidding, my eyes are wet with tears from laughter and my jaws hurt. :DD

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I caught the first few minutes of that episode after missing most of the Cooking Loft that day. I was really weirded out by her choice of color scheme. Was she going for the Italian Widow look? Why the black?

She was going on about how good slow-cooked food was and I thought, "Isn't her show about saving time?" No matter what she says, it's not about saving money because all of her pre-prepared ingredients are expensive. Certainly her use of the slow cooker isn't really practical. I could make better versions of some of her dishes in far less time with fresh ingredients. Most of us could.

I was pretty grossed out by her menu, so I really couldn't watch. I think a lot of people just watch the show to make fun of it. I know she has her followers, but I think she has far more detractors. It doesn't matter why people watch it. FN makes money no matter what the reason.

Word on the cream. It's not that hard to whip cream. Sadly, many many people think Cool Whip is the greatest stuff on earth. I've often shouted the virtues of real whipped to people and why they shouldn't use Cool Whip, only to be met with, "But I love Cool Whip." Cool Whip is a powerful force. It has many poor folks in its grip. You can't fight it. I've tried.

Anonymous said...

Hubby actually doesn't watch her much with me (I don't watch her that often either, only when I'm sitting around waiting to go to the gym, or at the gym), so I don't think he's taken in by her feminine wiles. He has commented that the kitchen is weird. He bought me her 20 minute meal book, because I'm the one who always cooks dinner, and sometimes he feels bad (not too bad, though, b/c he says he could always order in), so he was trying to be helpful. I sometimes buy frozen veggies to use for cooking, but only because the fresh is either way too expensive, or I can't find them fresh (like pearl onions). Okay, and I do use pre-shredded cheese, only because hubby will use it for sandwiches, and i don't think he'd grate it himself. But usually, when she calls for pre-shredded veggies, I just use real ones

Tracy said...

An entertaining recap!

Emiline said...

OMG I just wrote this really long comment and it didn't go through. This connection is horrible.

I know you don't like watching her show, but I do enjoy reading your recaps. Hilarious!

I have never used a slow cooker, and I don't plan on it. I don't get the point either. I think they're old fashioned...and I don't know...trashy?

Nobody mentioned the crostada in your comments. This is a horrible, horrible idea! Grape jelly and ricotta? Gross! Ugh.

Did you figure out what was up with the black?
I hope I didn't come off too negative. Sandra is very pretty and her story is interesting. I actually kind of like the hair, outfits and color schemes.

Jen said...

Hi Sue... I don't know what I would do without your write-ups since I don't have cable. Whenever I do get a chance to watch the FoodNetwork and Semi-homemade happens to be on I spend the entire half wondering why anyone would bother to make a SL recipe especially since they never look very good, even on tv.

Sue said...

Hi Neil,
Yes!!! That’s exactly right. There is simply no good reason to use all that packaged premade garbagey stuff and plenty of reasons not to.

Hey S,
You are GOOD! I thought I could find ANYTHING online and I could only come up with the champagne gasses. I don’t know why, but I find them UGLEEEEEEEEEEE! But now that you’ve said Moma has them, I may have to reconsider.

Thanks, Cyn.
I just report on what's happening. It's Aunt Sandy that's off the hook.

That’s what’s so mysterious about Sandy. Her food isn’t better, faster or cheaper…WHY is she still around?

Why people won’t use real cream is a mystery. I love that: “Cool Whip is a powerful force.”

I’m just impressed that he bought you a cookbook at all. I don’t have a problem with pre-shredded cheese, every once in a while, for pizza or tacos, but NOT Parmesan. That stuff tastes like mothballs.

Thanks Tracy.

I HATE that. Thanks for persevering.

Yes, that grape jelly thing was a perversion of all that is good in the world. There is absolutely NO reason for it.

Sandra’s costume, tabletop and color schemes remind me of all those bright candy colors that were banned years ago, because they cause cancer!

Hi Jen,
That's good that you can't watch too often. That must mean that you actually get worthwhile things done!

Cheryl said...

Thanks for stopping by! I Hate hate hate Sandra Lee, just thinking about her pises me off! LOL

Sue said...

Hi Cheryl,
Nice blog you have.

Sometimes SL can be amusing, in a strange never-want-to-cook-like-her way.